Opportunity to Innovate, Communicate and Engage

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls, and looks like work.” Thomas Edison

The education community in Alaska has a lot of work ahead.  As a member of the education community, I am willing to put in that work and provide leadership because of all the opportunities that come with it.  We have a chance to shape our plan to meet the new (and somewhat unknown) requirements from the Every Student Succeeds Act.  We have a chance to address root concerns from some of our legislators about innovation, results, and supporting a sustainable fiscal plan.  We have a chance to tell the public education story – the same stories that give me hope about our state’s and country’s future.

As Thomas Edison said, we cannot miss these opportunities because of the work involved.  The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has dramatically improved graduation rates over the past several years.  The real story is that we have put a great deal of effort into differentiating instruction, developing positive relationships with kids and utilizing technology to expand learning outside of the school day.  Every bit of that is rooted in constant focus and effort to meet the individual needs of students.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has prioritized communication with all stakeholders with an emphasis on lasting impact our students have within their individual communities.  Whether it is students providing support to their peers in transition or students creating public service announcements to save future lives, we honor those accomplishments and make sure everyone understands the value of the entire system supporting these endeavors.  Again, it takes a great deal of effort and sometimes it seems like no one is listening.  Then the parent of a student in transition will call saying thanks or a businessperson following up on a story they read about involving one of our innovative, creative students.

As those small “wins” build, the voice of the education community builds.  With even more effort and leadership, the true value of public education in our state will gain more respect and recognition.  We have the opportunity to transform results and perceptions of public education.  It is time for the education community to roll up our sleeves, provide clear examples of value, share the immense amount of success we all have in our districts and engage in the process this fall and next legislative session.

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Transitioning

It is that time of the year where the district has a foot in two worlds.  We are working hard to have a strong finish to the current school year and at the same time prepare for next school year.  We are fortunate that we have a great staff at our schools who are working to stay in the present with their students.  We also have a great staff at the district who is able to support our school staff while putting together the framework for next year.  This can only be done through great effort and a commitment to process performance management.

Our district has many processes in place, with the most visible one being the budget process.  It is exceptionally transparent with many opportunities for input.  Another process we have in place that many people see on a regular basis is staffing.  We have staffing formulas in place to provide equity in our schools.  The goal is for like sized schools to have similar programs.  There is flexibility in what programs are offered where through community input.  From the district perspective, staffing is dedicated to struggling learners and programs geared toward personalization for student engagement.  In the end though, what is offered at individual sites is up to the school itself.

As we make the transition from this school year to the next, please work with your site principal on what is important to your community.  As we look to become more efficient, priorities must be set at each school.  Some decisions will be difficult, but individual community values are reflected in our schools.  I believe our diversity and site level management are the biggest strengths our district has to meet the individual needs of our children.

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Alaska Legislature

As we embark on one of the most important legislative sessions in the history of our state, it is important to remember all of the opportunities we have in front of us.  The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District (KPBSD) has many stories of excellence to share and I am certain that is true in all school districts in Alaska.  Now is the opportunity to share those stories in a meaningful way that will stick with our state leaders and communities.  Now is the time to gather local community leaders to be a part of telling these stories.

For example, many people living on the Peninsula are graduates of our system.  They are sending their sons and daughters to the same system which prepared them for their careers.  This is an important cycle to recognize and honor.  Also, while education and the expectations for students have increased over time, what students always remember is the great teacher or staff member who made a positive impact on them through a caring relationship.  These are the stories to tell – the collaboration between student and staff that made a difference.

To tell our tale, KPBSD is utilizing, what we call, Key Communicators.  This body is made up of over 80 leaders across our district, many of whom are KPBSD graduates.  These leaders let us know what we do well and, also, how to improve.  They are fostering our culture of continuous advancement and they understand the real impact public education has in their communities.  They are committed to engaging with schools and state leaders to tell the story of public education on the Peninsula.  Numbers and data only tell a part of the story.  Our Key Communicators will share KPBSD results through actual experiences of extended learning, positive relationships, and student projects of great impact.  It is with great pride that we are seeing how this group of leaders is taking the opportunity to tell our story.  The results of our communication effort will speak for themselves, especially as we see pride grow, within our communities, for the schools that serve them.

Although this is a challenging time for education, this challenge presents a great opening for us to shine.  Let’s make the very best of this opportunity by sharing with state decision makers, that which truly makes public education in Alaska excellent!

KPBSD and the Legislature webpage

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One Year

Today marks the one year anniversary of my stepping into the role of superintendent.  What a year it has been.  I have seen tremendous growth and commitment from our staff in the area of collaboration and continuous improvement.  We are slowly, but surely shifting the focus from basic skills to the 4 C’s – Critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.  Not only was this year a transition for me, but also for the state and education in general.  New state-wide assessments have been implemented and it has been bumpy.  We believe in using data to improve instruction, but it should not be based on a single assessment.  Along with a variety of assessments, the assessments are dynamic and integrated within a lesson.  The most basic assessment is a verbal question that allows time for students to think, walk through a process of problem solving and receive immediate feedback. Assessments don’t have to be tests nor do they have to be high stakes.  I am looking forward to the efforts of our staff to create a more meaningful assessment and accountability system that provides students more relevance to improve learning.

Our district has always been focused on the individual student.  Through collaboration, a focus on continuous improvement and a commitment to establishing positive relationships with students, I have no doubt our district will take the next steps toward excellence and preparing students for their future.  This may have to be done with fewer resources in the near term, but it is the right thing to do for our kids.

I am looking forward to the next year in my tenure as superintendent of our fantastic school district!

KPBSD logo 4c teaching with innovation and collaboration

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AMP update

The Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP) results are now public.  Clearly, the results across the State and KPSBD are lower than what we are used to seeing from the old Standards Based Assessment.  While there are many reasons for this, ultimately we are using the results as an opportunity to improve.  In prior years, there has been a focus on basic skills and getting students “over the bar”.  The new standards and assessment have changed expectations for public education as a whole.  Our students regularly get opportunities to apply their knowledge and work on problem solving. Now, that has become the focus for our students through the new standards and assessment.  I believe in raising the bar for public education and a renewed focus on an individual students’ growth.  Life beyond the K-12 world has very high expectations and our system is rising to those expectations.  We have our baseline measure in place and once AMP provides detailed information for instructional decision-making, we believe this can help provide a clearer learning path for each of our students.

AMP is not the only measure we use to help chart a student’s learning path.  It is something that the state does use to define a school’s performance rating so there is a sense of it being “high stakes” for our staff and communities.  Our district will be very involved in the future development of any statewide assessment, including possible refinements to AMP, to ensure that reporting is timely and accurate with enough detail for instructional decision-making to help students along their learning pathway.  This may take some time, but we have many pieces in place, including a dedicated, professional staff, that will continue to provide a quality educational experience for all of our students as they prepare for their future.
KPBSD logo 4c teaching with innovation and collaboration

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Twitter

In an effort to share the excellence of our diverse district and what I see during school visits, I am tweeting!  Let’s connect on twitter – you can find me at:  @KPBSDsupthttps://twitter.com/KPBSDsupt

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1st Quarter Update

1st Quarter update
October 2015

The leaves are falling and the air is getting chillier. This is my favorite time of the year as we transition from summer to winter in Alaska. It also is a transition for our schools. This year, after an excellent start, our district is continuing its transition to meet the new, much more rigorous Alaska State Standards. We will soon be receiving the detailed results of the Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP) assessment and our staff will use those results to meet the individual needs of our students. Students, staff and parents will get a sense of where a student is performing in relation to the new standards and more importantly, goals for each student can be set so that by graduation students will be truly prepared for their future.

As I have visited many of our schools during the first quarter I have seen a multitude of opportunities for students to apply core academic knowledge in a project based format. From drones to robots to service learning projects our students have been given great opportunities to work with ideas and instruments they will encounter in their future. I am so impressed with how district and school staff have worked to provide meaningful opportunities for our students. We all work very hard to develop rigorous and relevant experiences that extend student learning to guide them to meet much higher expectations.

We have begun the process of fiscal planning for upcoming years. Right now, the State of Alaska is contemplating many options to meet the challenges we face. The Board has developed our legislative priorities and we are focused on working with the state and borough to make the right choices for the future while ensuring that students are the number one priority. After all, there is no better investment for the future of our state, than our students.

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Engagement, Assessment, AMP

As you know, I have only been able to provide periodic updates to this blog.  I have decided that this forum will become the way I will house all of my communications that occur through out the district.  You will see my presentations to the Assembly, Chambers and other entities.  You will see the quarterly updates I provide to the schools and also the weekly updates that are provided to the school board.

I will still conduct periodic updates specifically for the blog when an interesting topic comes up.  The interesting topic I would like to comment on now has to do with assessment and the Alaska Measures of Performance, also called the AMP.  The State is currently working on setting proficiency levels for this test, which is replacing the Standards Based Assessments.  The AMP is the new test that is designed to measure how our students perform on the new Alaska State Standards.  You may or may not be aware of the fact that 2 years ago, the State changed the State Standards for students.  Since then our teachers and administrators have been working to implement the new, much more rigorous standards in our classrooms.  This has been a heavy lift that has required a great deal of time and we still have more to work on.

Last spring the AMP test was administered in an online format.  As with all new assessments implemented across the country that are measuring new standards, the results will be lower than we are used to.  There has been a fundamental shift in the expectations for what students are supposed to know and able to do from the new standards.  In comparison, during the last 14 years through No Child Left Behind, basic skills and procedures were measured.  The new standards measure those skills too, but add additional requirements in reasoning, application, analysis, and communication.  As our teachers, schools and district make this shift to help our students grow their achievement from this initial, baseline assessment, I encourage you to ask the schools what you can do to support student growth.  I am very appreciative of the work our teachers and administrators have put in during this process and am confident that we will make the shift to fully support our students to meet the new standards, especially now that we have the baseline results.

We view this as an opportunity to better support our students as the bar has been raised for them.  The higher expectations are designed to prepare students to better compete and prepare them for their future.

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Beginning again

The start of the new school year is upon us!  School administrators have come back to prepare to open our schools.  Teachers and support staff will soon return to prepare for all of their students too.  In reflecting back on last school year and what could be in store for our district this year, I am thankful that we have been able to smoothly transition between superintendents.  With that being said, we are still in the middle of transitioning our entire instructional program and continue our work to operate more efficiently.

The instructional transition includes more work on standards implementation.  Expectations for students and staff have greatly increased through the new standards.  We are fortunate that we have built in collaborative time for our staff to work on aligning the higher expectations from the standards to the curriculum and everyday practice in the classroom.  With a greater emphasis on critical thinking and application, our students need the opportunity to experience more relevant activities in and out of the classroom.  We are on that path and I am confident, through our commitment to continuous improvement, that more differentiation to meet each students’ needs will occur.

For several years now, our district has been re-examining a variety of internal processes with an eye on eliminating redundancies and improving efficiency.  With the current fiscal climate in the state, we will continue this focus so that we can provide the best possible experience for each of our students with the resources we have available.  The most valuable resource we have is time.  Being efficient and focused in determining student needs creates more time to work with individual students.  This can be done through collaborative teaming where hard questions are systematically asked by peers.  Our staff has been refining their processes and as we get more assessment information in regards to the new standards we will be able to refine the processes, interventions, enrichment opportunities and questions to make progress toward the new targets the state will define for us.  The targets may seem to be difficult to reach, but I am confident our staff is capable of making the necessary adjustments with our students to reach these new, lofty expectations.

It is easy to say that each school year is a new beginning and in many ways it is, but for our district we have been on the road of continuous improvement for years.  We have quality staff that work very hard everyday.  That has not changed and I am thankful that is the case.  While we celebrate the beginning, I also celebrate the long term commitment and focus we all have on preparing all of our students for their future.

I look forward to the new school year and the continued focus we have for all of our students!

Have a great year!

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More with Relevance

Over the past several weeks I have had the opportunity to talk with several of our high school students.  They have provided me some resources through youtube and web articles that have helped me understand that providing a relevant education for them is extremely important.

In speaking with students, they truly want more than to learn process or recite facts.  They want to be challenged and given the opportunity to explore.  Many of them expressed interest in expanded opportunities to serve their communities.  I believe our staff gets this and try to provide much more than a “textbook” education.  Some of my evidence comes from our current group of BP Teachers of Excellence.  Without fail, the nominators of these teachers expressed how the teachers would try to connect course material to the “real world” while making positive personal connections with students.  The nominees themselves talked about personal connections with students being their number 1 priority.

I have mentioned before that I believe in a rigorous curriculum and standards, relevance of the curriculum to a student’s interest, and most importantly, establishing a positive relationship with students.  The saying “Students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” is something I truly believe in.  A large part of that caring is getting to know students well enough to know their interests, aspirations and dreams.  Only after that, can curriculum truly be relevant to a student which in turn motivates them to seek greater challenges and become life long learners.

We are about to close out another school year and I look forward to my next post as a reflection of where we are at as a district from my perspective and where I see us going next year.  As you can imagine, I will focus on the 3 R’s (rigor, relevance and relationships) along with a continuous improvement mindset embedded into our culture.

Take care and talk again soon!

 

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